Definitions

skimp on

Lego

[leg-oh]

Lego, officially trademarked LEGO, is a line of construction toys manufactured by the Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, "Lego", have consisted of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts. Lego bricks can be assembled and connected in many ways, to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings and even working robots. Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects. Kits are sold which contain all necessary pieces for a particular project. Some hobbyists try to collect, buy, and sell various other pieces in different shapes and colors, to construct other hobbyist-created designs. The toys were originally designed in the 1940s in Europe and have achieved an international appeal, with an extensive subculture that supports Lego movies, games, competitions, and four Lego-themed amusement parks.

Early history

The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark. Christiansen began creating wooden toys in 1932; the company began calling itself "Lego" two years later in 1934. The company expanded to producing plastic toys in 1940. In 1949, Lego began producing the now-famous interlocking bricks, calling them "Automatic Binding Bricks." These bricks were based largely on the design of Kiddicraft Self-Locking Bricks, which were released in the UK in 1947. The first Lego bricks, manufactured from cellulose acetate, were developed in the spirit of traditional wooden blocks that could be stacked upon one another; however, these plastic bricks could be "locked" together. They had several round "studs" on top, and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they could not be pulled apart.

The company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play well". The name could also be interpreted as "I put together" or "I assemble" in Latin, though this would be a somewhat forced application of the general sense "I collect; I gather; I learn"; the word is most used in the derived sense, "I read". The cognate Greek verb "λέγω" or "lego" also means "gather, pick up", but this can include constructing a stone wall.

The Lego Group's motto is "Only the best is good enough", a free translation of the Danish phrase Det bedste er ikke for godt. This motto was created by Ole Kirk to encourage his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. The motto is still used within the company today.

The use of plastic for toy manufacture was not highly regarded by retailers and consumers of the time. Many of the Lego Group's shipments were returned, following poor sales; it was thought that plastic toys could never replace wooden ones.

By 1954, Christiansen's son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, had become the junior managing director of the Lego Group. It was his conversation with an overseas buyer that struck the idea of a toy system. Godtfred saw the immense potential in Lego bricks to become a system for creative play, but the bricks still had some problems from a technical standpoint: their "locking" ability was limited, and they were not very versatile. It was not until 1958 that the modern-day brick design was developed, and it took another five years to find the right material for it. The modern Lego brick was patented on January 28, 1958, and bricks from that year are still compatible with current bricks.

Design

Lego pieces of all varieties are a part of a universal system. Despite variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1963 still interlock with those made in 2008, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers.

Bricks, beams, axles, mini figures, and all other elements in the Lego system are manufactured to an exacting degree of tolerance. When snapped together, pieces must have just the right amount of "clutch power"; they must stay together until pulled apart. They cannot be too easy to pull apart, or the resulting constructions would be unstable; they also cannot be too difficult to pull apart, since the disassembly of one creation in order to build another is part of the Lego appeal. In order for pieces to have just the right "clutch power", Lego elements are manufactured within a tolerance of 2 µm.

Primary concept and development work takes place at the Billund headquarters, where the company employs approximately 120 designers. The company also has smaller design offices in the UK, Spain, Germany, and Japan, which are tasked with developing products aimed specifically at these markets. The average development period for a new product is around twelve months, in three stages. The first stage is to identify market trends and developments, including contact by the designers directly with the market; some are stationed in toy shops close to holiday periods, while others interview children. The second stage is the design and development of the product based upon the results of the first stage. As of September 2008 the design teams use 3D modeling software such as Rhinoceros 3D to generate CAD drawings from initial design sketches. The designs are then prototyped using an in-house stereolithography machine. These are presented to the entire project team for comment and for testing by parents and children during the "validation" process. Designs may then be altered in accordance with the results from the focus groups. Virtual models of completed Lego products are built concurrently with the writing of the user instructions. Completed CAD models are also used in the wider organisation, such as for marketing and packaging.

Manufacture

Since 1963, Lego pieces have been manufactured from a strong, resilient plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). As of September 2008, the engineers use the NX CAD/CAM/CAE PLM software suite to model the elements. The software allows the parts to be optimised by way of mold flow and stress analysis. Prototype molds are sometimes built before the design is committed to mass production. The ABS plastic is heated to 232°C until at a dough-like consistency. It is then injected into the molds at pressures between 25 and 150 tonnes, and takes approximately 7 seconds to cool. The molds are permitted a tolerance of up to one thousandth of a millimetre, to ensure the bricks remain connected. Human inspectors check the output of the molds, to eliminate significant variations in color or thickness. Worn-out molds are encased in the foundations of buildings to prevent their falling into competitors' hands. According to the Lego Group, about eighteen bricks out of every million fail to meet the standard required. Only one percent of the plastic waste in Lego factories goes unrecycled.

Manufacturing of Lego bricks occurs at a number of locations around the world. Molding is done at one of two plants in Denmark and Czech Republic. Brick decorations and packaging is done at plants in Denmark, United States, Mexico and the Czech Republic. Annual production of Lego bricks averages approximately 20 billion (2×1010) per year, or about 600 pieces per second. To put this in context, if all the Lego bricks ever produced were to be divided equally among a world population of six billion, each person would have 62 Lego bricks.

In 2007, Lego Group announced a restructuring of the current production setup including the outsourcing of some of the production work to Flextronics, a Singaporean electronics company. Lego Group plans to close the production facility in Enfield, Connecticut and outsource this work to the Flextronics factory in Mexico. Flextronics will also oversee the factory in Kladno, Czech Republic. The Czech facilities would also be expanded due to the planned closing of the Swiss factory in Baar, which mostly manufactured TECHNIC parts. On February 19, 2008, Lego announced that the Lego Group would instead take over operations of the Kladno factory from March 1, 2008. On July 1, 2008, Lego announced their intent to take over plants in Mexico and Hungary and "phase out the existing outsourcing agreement with Flextronics during 2009."

Today

Since it began producing plastic bricks, the Lego Group has released thousands of play sets themed around a variety of topics. Examples include, but are not limited to, space, robots, pirates, vikings, medieval castles, dinosaurs, holiday locations, scuba diving, the wild west, the Arctic, airports, miners, Star Wars, Batman, SpongeBob SquarePants, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Speed Racer. New elements are often released along with new sets. There are also Lego sets designed to appeal to young girls such as the Clikits line which consists of small interlocking parts that are meant to encourage creativity and arts and crafts, much like regular Lego bricks. Clikit pieces can interlock with regular Lego bricks as decorative elements.

The Lego range has expanded to encompass accessory motors, gears, lights, sensors, and cameras designed to be used with Lego components. There are even special bricks, like the Lego NXT that can be programmed with a PC or a Mac to perform very complicated and useful tasks. These programmable bricks are sold under the name Lego Mindstorms.

In 2006 a new Lego Mindstorms kit called Mindstorms NXT was released. It is more advanced than the previous RCX, and has a new array of sensors. They include touch, sound, light, and a new ultrasonic sensor technology. There is also a Bluetooth compatible hookup that can send and receive messages from one's cellphone and other Bluetooth compatible devices. The RCX was only compatible with Windows, but the NXT is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS.

There are several robotics competitions which use Lego bricks and the RCX. The earliest, and likely the largest, is Botball, a national U.S. middle- and high-school competition stemming from the MIT 6.270 Lego robotics tournament. A related competition is FIRST Lego League for elementary and middle schools. The international RoboCup Junior soccer competition involves extensive use of Lego Mindstorms equipment which is often pushed to its extreme limits.

Bionicle is a line of toys by the Lego Group that is marketed towards those in the 7–16-year-old age range. The line was launched in January 2001 in Europe and June/July 2001 in the United States. The Bionicle idea originated from the earlier toy lines Slizers (also known as Throwbots) and Roboriders. Both of these lines had similar throwing disks and characters based on classical elements. The sets in the Bionicle line have increased in size and flexibility through the years.

Lego Group operates four Legoland amusement parks, the original in Billund, Denmark, the second in Windsor England and the third in Gunzburg, Germany; there is also one in California. On July 13, 2005, the control of 70% of the Legoland parks was sold for $460 million to the Blackstone Group of New York while the remaining 30% is still held by the Lego Group. There are also several Lego Brand retail stores, including ones at Downtown Disney in both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts and in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. As of year end 2005, there are 25 Lego Brand Retail stores in the USA, a number of stores in Europe, and a franchised Lego store in Abu Dhabi.

Lego has also successfully branched into video games that appeal to a wide age range, with titles like Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Bionicle Heroes as well as the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Lego Indiana Jones, a Lego Batman, and the upcoming Lego Universe MMOG. Lego Digital Designer is an official piece of Lego software for Windows and Mac OS X which allows users to build with Lego bricks on their computers. Users can then publish their creations online on the Lego Factory website, or purchase the physical bricks to build them. Lego Digital Designer includes some Lego products which only exist online, including models for the children's television programmes TUGS, Thomas and Friends and Speed Racer.

On January 28,2008, Lego celebrated the 50th anniversary of the patent on its interlocking blocks with a worldwide building contest. Google paid tribute to the anniversary by writing its name on the Google homepage in Lego bricks, along with the Lego figure on one of the letters.

One of the largest Lego sets ever commercially produced is a minifig-scaled edition of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon. Designed by Jens Kronvold Fredericksen, it was released in 2007 and has over 5,000 pieces. It was recently surpassed by a Lego model of the Taj Mahal which consists of nearly six thousand pieces.

In art

One hobby among enthusiasts is to make short movies or recreations of feature films using Lego bricks. Such movies are called "Lego movies", "Brickfilms", "Legomations", "Brick Flicks" and "cinema Lego". They usually use stop motion animation.

Lego used to sell a line of sets named "Lego Studios" (now discontinued), which contains a Lego web cam (repackaged Logitech USB Quickcam Web), software to record video on a computer, black plastic rods which can be used to manipulate minifigures from off-camera and a minifigure resembling Steven Spielberg. Because of the low quality of the camera and software most Brickfilmers do not use it.

Another notable example is the award-winning music video for the song "Fell in Love with a Girl" by the White Stripes. Director Michel Gondry filmed a live version of the video, digitized the result and then recreated it entirely with Lego bricks.

Artists have also used Lego sets with one of the more notorious examples being Polish artist Zbigniew Libera's " Lego Concentration Camp", a collection of mock Lego sets with a concentration camp theme.

The Little Artists have created an entire Modern Art collection in a Lego Gallery. ' Art Craziest Nation' was shown at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, UK. Such ambitious projects are sometimes called ‘Lego art’ or ‘brick art’.

Several webcomics are illustrated with Lego such as Irregular Webcomic!. Brendan Powell Smith has created an illustrated bible using Lego bricks, called the Brick Testament. Nathan Sawaya is a professional Lego artist who currently has a museum show of Lego sculptures and Mosaics touring the US. Jason Burik is also an artist who provides Lego art to the world.

Serious Play

Since around 2000, the Lego Group has been promoting Lego Serious Play, a form of business consultancy fostering creative thinking, in which team members build metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, imaginatively exploring possibilities in a serious form of play.

See also

  • LUGNET, Lego Users Group Network.

References

Further reading

  • Bagnall, Brian. "Maximum LEGO® NXT: Building Robots with Java Brains". Variant Press. 2007. ISBN 0-9738649-1-5
  • Bagnall, Brian. "Core LEGO® Mindstorms". Prentice-Hall PTR. 2002. ISBN 0-13-009364-5
  • Bedford, Allan. The Unofficial LEGO® Builder's Guide. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2005. ISBN 1-59327-054-2.
  • Clague, Kevin, Miguel Agullo, and Lars C. Hassing. LEGO® Software Power Tools, With LDraw, MLCad, and LPub. 2003. ISBN 1-931836-76-0
  • Courtney, Tim, Ahui Herrera and Steve Bliss. Virtual LEGO®: The Official LDraw.org Guide to LDraw Tools for Windows. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2003. ISBN 1-886411-94-8.
  • McKee, Jacob H. Getting Started with LEGO® Trains. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2003. ISBN 1-59327-006-2.
  • Ferrari, Mario, Giulio Ferrari, and Ralph Hempel. Building Robots With LEGO® Mindstorms: The Ultimate Tool for Mindstorms Maniacs. 2001. ISBN 1-928994-67-9.
  • Kristiansen, Kjeld Kirk, foreword. The Ultimate LEGO® Book. New York: DK Publishing Book, 1999. ISBN 0-7894-4691-X.
  • Wiencek, Henry. The World of LEGO® Toys. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0-8109-2362-9.
  • Pilegaard, Ulrik, and Dooley, Mike. "Forbidden LEGO®". San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2007. ISBN 1-59327-137-9

External links

Official

  • Lego Official WebsiteCommunity
  • LUGNET - Lego users group network.
  • Brickshelf - Website to host pictures of Lego creations.
  • MOCpages - Display and rate Lego creations.
  • EUROBRICKS - European Lego fansite discussion board.Database and Reference
  • Main Page Open Content Lego Encyclopedia
  • Wiki-Brick-Links Open directory of links to Lego web sites
  • Peeron Lego Set and Part Inventory Database, also hosts the Instruction Scan Library.
  • Brickset Guide to Lego sets past and present.

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